379th ESFS FAST; the “Elite-21”
By Staff Sgt. Kylee Gardner, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 10, 2021
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
The 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron Fly Away Security Team is a unique group of 21 Airmen who provide discreet, low-visibility security that ensures protection for U.S. Air Force aircraft transiting in airfields where security is unknown or deemed inadequate to counter local threats.
When the Afghanistan evacuation operations first began, it was clear that FAST was the right team to help aircrews execute their missions at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
According to Staff Sgt. Taylor Cyr, 379th ESFS FAST member, throughout the evacuation their mission entailed providing protection while on the ground in Kabul to both the aircrews and sister services, assisting with the loading of evacuating passengers, ensuring security in-flight, providing first aid to evacuees, and keeping the peace while on the ground in Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.
“To put it simply, our mission was to ensure the safe delivery of Airmen and evacuees from HKIA to Al Udeid Air Base,” Cyr said.
During these operations, their missions would range between 12 hours to 51 hours long.
“After landing and all passengers had safely debarked the aircraft, the jet was cleaned, weapons were turned in and all members in-processed through the base and signed back in at the operations center,” said Cyr. “We would then be transported to get food and back to our rooms. Once we signed into operations, our FAS (Fly Away Security) coordinator would start an eight hour rest timer and after that we’d get right back to the mission.”
This team of 21 Airmen was responsible for the evacuation of roughly 30,000 people from Afghanistan through 130 combat sorties, more than half of the approximately 57,000 evacuees that transited through Al Udeid Air Base.
“Our FAST members exceeded all expectations,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Butler, 379th ESFS commander. “Their bravery and determination, flying mission-after-mission into a dynamic environment, was critical in ensuring the safety and security of the aircrews, aircraft, and evacuee passengers during the largest humanitarian airlift in history.”
Although the hours were extreme and missions were hectic, Cyr was able to connect to the operation on a personal level.
“Being a father of two little girls, I would always connect with the kids,” said Cyr. “It brought me extreme happiness to see these girls who now have a chance to grow up without risk of the Taliban’s oppression and can do whatever they want in this world without fear of persecution.”
The FAST was nicknamed “Elite-21” for the hard work of the 21-Airmen team during evacuation operations.
“Tech. Sgt. Brendan Young, , dubbed us the ‘Elite-21’ during the operations, and it stuck, even our leadership now refers to us as this,” said Cyr. “We had a lot of hard times, and he made a point to remind us that what we were doing was important and that we were setting the standard for units around us. For 21 people to do what we did is crazy and hard to believe. We conducted 130 missions in 15 days.”
According to Cyr, the evacuation operations were exhausting and terrifying, yet one of the most rewarding experiences he’s ever had the privilege of being a part of.
“To quote [379th Air Expeditionary Wing commander] Brig. Gen. Gerald Donohue: ‘We just recruited the future generation of American Airmen,’ because of our efforts,” said Cyr. “I’d say, yeah we did.”